The Senate scandal and three really damaging narratives for Stephen Harper

Stephen Harper responds to a question in the House of Commons on October 24There are three narratives emerging from the Senate expense scandal that Conservative strategists will be watching very closely over the coming weeks and months.

If the Tories can't counter those narratives, there's a very good chance that they'll continue to slip in the polls heading into the 2015 election campaign.

[ Related: Canadians showing little sympathy for Senators Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau ]

We gave former Reform/Conservative MP Paul Forseth the opportunity to defend the Tories.

Here are the three potential damaging narratives and Forseth's counters:

Narrative 1: Stephen Harper is losing control of his caucus:

Harper had clearly stated in the House and during radio interviews that he would like to see a Senate motion to suspend Senators Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau without pay, pass. Three Conservative Senators and two MPs -- Peter Goldring and Peter Kent -- however have spoken out against the motions. And now the Conservative leadership in the Senate are potentially looking to soften the motions.

Has Stephen Harper lost control?

Forseth: No the Senate is much more independent than people understand.

[Harper] didn't have control of that motion and each individual senator is independent.

There's a new twist and new nuance that today's media pounces upon. But I remind people, where did this all come from. It came from a few senators pushing the boundaries of the rules.

The Senate is quite an esteemed body and very essential to our history and to the functioning of our country and not just ordinary employees. I think we have to have a little bit of balance.

I think that's part of the push back.

I think the Senate caucus is going to have to work out what would be the appropriate consequence for someone who [breaks the rules]. And it looks like they're trying to be responsive to the Canadian public.

[ Related: CBC comedians mock Harper, Senate scandal with ‘Tories’ parody ]

Narrative 2: Stephen Harper isn’t the great strategist we once believed him to be:

For the Conservative leadership to introduce this motion in the Senate just days after the throne speech and days before the Convention was stupid. They didn't change the channel on the Senate, they broke the remote control.

It appears that the usual polished politician is either misspeaking or misleading. A few months ago, Harper said his former chief of staff Nigel Wright "resigned." In a radio interview aired Monday, he said Wright was "dismissed."

Is Stephen Harper still a brilliant tactician?

Forseth: I still think that he's a brilliant leader and the best one around.

I do think it was unwise for that motion to be tabled and I'm not so sure Mr. Harper approved the timing of it because it overshadowed the other issues of...the throne speech and the trade deals.

Narrative 3: Harper's days as prime minister are numbered:

There are some that are suggesting that Stephen Harper cannot survive this scandal.

It's the most tumultuous period of his reign as prime minister and raises questions about his credibility. The common refrain has become: 'Harper is either lying and knew about Nigel Wright's $90,000 cheque to Mike Duffy or he's incompetent because he didn't know what was going on in his own office.'

Are Stephen Harper's days numbered?

Forseth: I think that's clearly wrong.

I think if Mr. Harper goes it will be because his wife Laureen says enough is enough. The first opening or opportunity will be two years after the next election. That will be a time where Stephen might be looking at his kids and what he's going to do at that time.

Of course it's always the opposition's role to sow doubt. But just watch: Harper will be endorsed at the [Conservative Party] convention and how much he'll have the convention kind of in his hand.

I really think Harper is clearly in charge and there's no there's no rebellion in the ranks at this point.

The main thing is that no money was lost. No money was stolen unlike the Gomery years...based on fraud. The only person that I know of that kind of planned fraud was the Liberal and that was Mac Harb. And he saw the writing on the wall and resigned. The media doesn't talk about him anymore.

(Photo courtesy of the Canadian Press)

 

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